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Municipal money matters

The timing is tight. Council's input is required so that the 2012 budget and the five-year financial plan can move forward and taxes can be determined.

The timing is tight. Council's input is required so that the 2012 budget and the five-year financial plan can move forward and taxes can be determined. Karen Blow, chief financial officer of the municipality, gave a presentation to council on Monday, January 23, to provide a "broad understanding of municipal financial operations and the many components that fit together to support the five year financial plan."

Blow suggested a number of meetings to bring council up to speed and said she welcomes the input of the newly appointed finance review task force that consists of two council members (councillor Wolfgang Duntz and councillor Alison Morse) and four volunteers (Steve Bellringer, Michael Cornelissen, Keith Ewart and Sheldon Stoilen).

Blow's presentation included a draft municipal organization chart, the municipality's financial statements from 2010 and documents pertaining to the five-year-financial plan. She made it clear that more steps were required for council to come to a place where informed decisions can be made.

Blow suggested a timeline that, including the January 23 meeting, dedicated some 18.5 hours to discussing money matters with council with an extra six hours cushion that Blow felt might be needed. She said, "I'd like to edge out some time for conversations that are still ahead of us. We'll present ideas for generating additional income like dog licenses and business permits. And we need a meeting where the service plan will be presented by the managers." Following those sessions will be discussions about priorities that Blow sees as a basis for the budget, the five-year financial plan and the tax bylaws.

She said, "The previous council's direction was to aim for a zero to three per cent tax increase. But there are too many competing needs for our dollars and the 2011 budget reductions for out department budgets were a challenge to implement. Difficult decisions were made and moving forward is going to be even more challenging."

Mayor Jack Adelaar said, "We want to bring in a finance committee to help us through that." Duntz echoed this sentiment, "Why should we spend days and days to look at something that committee can help us with?"

Morse said that, even with the help of the finance committee, the recommended four-hour meeting with department managers was important for council. Blow said, "The [department] managers were asked to think about cost saving measures but we need to hear from council whether there is appetite for projects like that. We need more directions before we bring recommendation that might affect human resources. And we need to know if you are interested in a decrease of services."

Morse raised the question of replenishing the funds that were paid for the sewer treatment plant with latecomer fees. Adelaar replied, "We have to deal with today and not with next year. The important thing for the moment is the budget for the coming year. In that respect I want the finance committee fired up to do the work that will help us around the table."

CAO Brent Mahood suggested that the mandate of a finance committee can include funding strategy in addition to the financial plan and budget process. Duntz cautioned, "I can't see any financial committee come up with drastic changes to anything we have. They might come up with 10 choices, maybe even five."

Adelaar said, "As council, we are supposed to make decisions but we are not supposed to do all the work that leads to the decisions. We are on the right path and, if we have a finance committee, that will be a big help."

Blow said that the draft budget has been ready since October but her department needs direction from council. She said, "We'll have to look at the options. Will we have gravel roads or paved roads? How many hours will the library be open, what kinds of grant will you give out?"

Duntz said, "It looks like it will come down to raising taxes or slashing expenses, most likely we will have something in the middle." He added that he thinks that, due to limited financial means, council will have to make some "unpopular decisions."

Blow explained that the draft budget is looking at a 9.9 per cent tax increase. She said, "This comes to around $300,000. We need at least $300,000 to balance the budget. We have many competing needs and we need to make choices." Blow added that the municipal finance department is "thrilled to have the support of the finance task force."

Duntz added, "Considering that we have appointed those [finance review task force members] quite rapidly, I suggest that we keep the option open that people can join in a week or two if other candidates come forward."